American POWs move to Japan
The Japanese transports, used to take the POWs from the southern areas to Japan, came to be known as Hell Ships. In August 1944 one thousand and thirty-five of us were literally crammed into the forward hold of the Noto Maru as it sailed from Manila, P.I. There was not enough room to even stand up as we were stacked together. The tropical heat created a living hell and then the hatch covers were closed. The hold was airless and the heat unbearable. We were sick, starved, and suffocating. There were only buckets provided for bathroom facilities. We were given one cup of water and two small rice rations daily. As we got underway, the hatch covers were partially opened and this gave some air to the POWs lucky enough to be near the center of the hold. We were aboard the Noto Maru for twelve days.
The Japanese did not mark or identify the POW transports as required by International law. American submarines attacked the convoy in which the Noto Maru was a part and several ships were destroyed. The Noto Maru had at least two torpedoes fired at her but they were deep running and ran just beneath the ship. They did not explode, thus saving the lives of 1,035 American POWs. Most of us would have welcomed a torpedo, as it would have put a quick end to our pain and suffering. After the war, we learned that many unmarked Japanese transports carrying POWs were sunk by Allied submarines and Allied airplanes with the loss of thousands of Prisoners of War.
We landed at Moji, Japan and went by railway cars northward. Several labor details were dropped off along the route. The remaining five hundred POWs stayed on the train until we were forty miles from the northern tip of Honshu.
Five hundred of us American Prisoners of War arrived at the Mitsubishi copper mine near Hanawa, Japan, on September 9, 1944.
We Americans were the survivors of the Battles of Bataan and Corregidor in the Philippines following the outbreak of World War II. All of us were sick, starved, and debilitated from two-and-one-half years of POW life and from our recent brutal boat trip up from the Philippines.
Our brief walk from the railhead near Hanawa to the POW enclosure was long enough for us to detect the crisp cool weather-an advanced warning of the brutally cold below-freezing winter ahead of us.
Before we entered the prison compound, we crossed a flowing stream cut deep into the mountainside. The guard building stood outside the compound gate. This building housed the Japanese soldiers and included the solitary cells in which camp rules violators were housed and punished.
The size of the prison compound was approximately 200' x 350'. A 12-foot high wooden fence surrounded the installation. Inside the enclosure were three barracks each approximately 20'x100'. The barracks were connected by covered passageways that were open on each side. The barracks had 30' ceilings housing double deck sleeping platforms lining each side. Straw mats were placed on these platforms to form bed-like facilities. The floors were packed dirt. Tables and benches were installed in the aisle of the barracks and provided eating facilities. The meals were brought in from the galley in buckets and served by fellow POWs.
Other buildings within the compound included three squat type latrines over cement pits; two rectangular buildings for an infirmary and medical personnel; an L shaped building for the galley and bath; and a Japanese headquarters building.
This compound would be home for us for the next twelve months.
The next two or three days were spent organizing the camp and work details. Mine officials came in to study the skills of the POWs in order to assign jobs. They set up work details for electricians, machinists, mechanics, foundry workers, and the miners. Those with little technical skill were doomed to the depths of the mine all the time. Others did topside and mining duties.
The health of the POWs was evaluated and a mixture of Japanese and captured American/English clothing was issued. All POWs were assigned to a specific work section and to a specific barracks area. A Japanese civilian employee from Mitsubishi Company was assigned to each work detail and was called the Honcho. Honchos carried large, heavy walking sticks and were proficient in its use to "encourage" POWs to work.
The Imperial Japanese Army and the Mitsubishi copper mine officials now had the American Prisoners of War prepared to produce copper for Japan.
Slave labor at Hanawa
The Mitsubishi Mining Company supported by the Japanese Imperial Army,
capitalized on the slave/forced labor of the American POWs at their copper
mine near Hanawa, Japan. Mitsubishi and the Japanese Army victimized,
enslaved, and subjected the 500 POWs to horrifying physical and mental
torture and abuse to aid this company's effort to help the War. The Mitsubishi
Company realized enormous profits from these POW laborers while the Japanese
nation's war effort reaped unbelievable benefits to further the Japanese
Even though our conditions of malnutrition, starvation, disease, and illnesses were plainly evident, the Japanese did nothing to remedy these. We were not fed; our illnesses and diseases were not treated; but they continued to work us harder and harder to increase copper mine production.
This Mitsubishi copper mine was one of the oldest mines in all of Japan.
It had been in continuous operation for 1,300 years. The mining methods
had remained unchanged for centuries. This mine required hard labor to
extract additional ore and previous owners had declared it nonproductive.
Mitsubishi, however, was determined to continue operations as long as
there was breath remaining in the American POWs.
We would rise at 5 a.m. eat breakfast of a small bowl of rice, barley or millet with a cup of watery soup. We would then have roll call and leave to walk the two miles uphill to the mine. We had to blast or dig the ore out using short handled picks. We then broke up the chunks of ore with short handled sledgehammers and hand loaded the finely broken ore into small push cars. The cars ran on rickety rails and were pushed long distances out of the mine and dumped in a holding bin near the rock crushers. Frequently the cars jumped the tracks and had to be pried and lifted back onto the tracks.
The Japanese set quotas were constantly being raised. The number of carloads was never enough and we were brutalized for not working hard enough or fast enough to meet their ever-increasing quotas.
Many laterals of the mine were so low that we had to crawl through. Some laterals had standing water with threats of sudden flooding. Lighting was poor and most areas were not shored up to prevent cave-ins. The work was dangerous and there were many accidents. Gas detecting equipment was non-existent so there was an ever-present danger of setting off an explosion from the open burning carbide headlamps. When we asked the Mitsubishi bosses why the mine was not shored up to prevent cave-ins, we were told that timbers were not available. We reminded them that we were in a heavily forested area and their reply was that Japan had to closely control and manage their forest resources to make them last forever. So they continued to use and reuse the old rotten aged timbers.
When we inquired about the lack of safety measures to detect explosive gas build up and the dangers from explosions from our open burning lamps, the reply also was bizarre. We told them in the early days in the U.S. mines, the miners would carry a cage with a canary to detect gases. They told us that there was not as much danger in a copper mine as in a coalmine. But even so, they said that they would always send the POWs ahead in the mine and if there were explosions, the POWs would be killed and that no great damage would be done. Their attitude regarding dangerous cave-ins and rockslides was similar. The POWs would be forced in first and if it appeared to be safe, the Mitsubishi employees would follow.
The POWs assigned work topside had more technical jobs such as electricians, machinists, millwrights, mechanics, and general laborers.
The work contract between the Japanese Imperial Army and the officials of Mitsubishi called for the Army to deliver a given number of POWs to the mine each day, six days per week. The POWs would then be turned over to the mining company for the daily work activities. The company had not counted on the sick and emaciated condition of the POWs. The POWs had been in bad health in P.I. and the Hell ship experience had produced a group of individuals unable to walk long distances or to work at strenuous tasks. In order to fill the daily work quota, the healthy POWs had to carry the weak POWs up to the mine. Once at the mine, no amount of coercion could force the emaciated POWs to perform any type of work. The Japanese changed their arrangement to permit those unable to climb the mountain to the mine and to bring jobs down to camp. In the Japanese mind, everyone worked. In fact, if we could not work, our food ration was cut to one-half rations. Light duty work was set up in the camp compound. This consisted of blacksmith work, nail making, rope making and other work contributing to the war effort.
My treatment by the Japanese at Hanawa, as well as at all POW camps, during three and one half years as a POW, was contrary to all civilized norms and not in compliance with the rules adopted by the Geneva Convention regarding handling of POWs. The treatment of starvation, withholding medical treatment, forced marches, slave labor, inadequate clothing and shelter, denial of communication and numerous other atrocities was brutal, barbaric, wicked, cruel depraved, evil, inhumane, and senseless.
Greetings to the people of Japan. I thank you for reading the above information relating to my personal experiences as an American Prisoner of War of the Japanese Imperial Government during World War II.
Congratulations to you, the Japanese people, who have risen out of the dust of a horrible period of war and have now established a viable nation. I know that you have done this through hard work and I know that your industrious nation will continue to develop and prosper under your newly found democracy.
You can become an even greater nation. Please continue to read my comments and accept my good faith belief that you must face historical facts straight on and then take necessary actions to absolve the Japanese nation of its despicable conduct during World War II.
Japan Joins Axis/Attacks USA and Neighbors
Prior to Japan's attack upon the United States and upon Southeast Asia, Japan made a pact with the Axis Forces of Europe to coordinate their foreign and military policies. The Axis forces that fought against the Allies were Germany, Italy, Japan and others. The German Axis members were under the control of the National Socialist Party whose leader was Adolph Hitler. Hitler advocated a totalitarian government, territorial expansion, anti-Semitism and Aryan supremacy. Germany's ill deeds and genocide endeavors are well known throughout the world.
As the Japanese Imperialist forces attacked, large parts of China, Manchuria, all of Korea, Taiwan, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Burma, Malay Peninsula, Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra, Celebes, New Guinea, Philippines, Guam, and countless islands fell to the brutal onslaught of Japan's Imperialists.
Japan cruelly controlled the conquered countries with an iron fist, murdering dissenters, mistreating native inhabitants by enslaving, starving and confiscating personal property. Each nation was looted of its natural resources for use in promoting Japan's imperialism. The nations were destroyed, left barren and many enslaved people were worked to death.
The Japanese leaders used medieval and barbaric methods to conquer and control their defeated foes. With fundamental Dark Ages philosophies Japan enslaved, slaughtered, persecuted, starved, denied health care and basic necessities to those under their control. Japan demonstrated an atrocious, inhumane, and uncivilized feeling toward those whom they conquered.
Japan's policy titled "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere" totally devastated all those nations under its influence.
My own horrifying experiences as an American Prisoner of War of the Japanese during WWII defy description.
Upon surrendering to the Japanese forces on Bataan, I was forced to make the Bataan Death March where thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were brutally beaten and murdered simply because they were too hungry, thirsty, exhausted, weak, sick or otherwise too debilitated to continue the forced march. The Japanese made no effort to alleviate their conditions by feeding, offering water or providing medical assistance. They refused to transport the disabled, choosing to murder them instead.
I was taken to Japan from the Philippines and required to perform slave labor under the constant threat of death. I worked at the American Slave Labor Camp at the Osarizawa copper mine operated by the Mitsubishi Mining Company. Our location was Camp 6 of the Sendai Military District, Shiragawa/Hanawa. Akita Ken, Honshu, Japan. My atrocious treatment at Hanawa is described in the above document. The cruel and barbaric treatment of us POWs continued up to the very day that Japan was forced to surrender unconditionally to the Allied Forces.
A study of the Japanese treatment of Allied Prisoners of War throughout East Asia shows the same treatment in all areas. This proves that direct orders for this inhumane treatment came from and was directed from the very highest officials within the Japanese Empire. This barbaric mistreatment is a true example of man's inhumanity to man. It was thrust upon Allied Military Forces whose only act had been that of having honorably defended the countries territory against Japanese foreign aggressors.
As a POW living in Japan toward the end of the war, I had personal knowledge of the preparation Japan was making to oppose the Allied invasion of the Japanese mainland. I also have studied the invasion plans which would have commenced soon. I know that every man, woman and child in Japan was sworn to die, if necessary, during the invasion.
In the event of the impending Japanese homeland invasion, millions of Japanese men, women, and children would surely die; a million Allied military would perish; and 60,000 POWs being held in Japan would be massacred instantly.
Fortunately the U.S. President had the courage to employ a means to stop the war immediately and prevent massive numbers of Japanese deaths. The war ended and lives were saved.
Not well known and still a closely guarded secret is that Japan's atrocities and its barbarism toward its enslaved nations as imperialism expanded into Southeast Asia, was similar to Nazi Germany's activities in Europe.
The big difference since WWII is that the German nation has admitted that it committed gross atrocities across Europe, has apologized to the people of the world, has promised to never again take similar action and has offered generous retributions to help ameliorate their atrocities.
On the other hand, Japan, the Nazis Alliance partner, refuses to accept responsibility for its similar atrocities.
The greatness of the new Japan will never be fully recognized and fully accepted by the world union of civilized nations until it takes actions similar to those of modern Germany
Japan must accept and recognize historical facts; must teach those truths in their school history books, must apologize to those it harmed, must promise to never again commit such misdeeds and must make acceptable retribution to those who they harmed.
Unless and until Japan takes these actions, it will continue to live under the dark cloud of suspicion, doubt, and distrust.
It is the duty of you, the new generation of Japan, to cleanse the WWII record of Japan. By doing this, the great new Japanese nation can hold its head high and face the civilized nations of the world with pride and with honor knowing that these charges have been resolved forever.
Visit to Hanawa
When I arrived at the tiny old station of Hanawa, meaning “flower wreath” in Japanese, I found a sleepy little town surrounded by a beautiful mountain range. A lady at the bus terminal told me how to get to the former site of the Mitsubishi Osarizawa copper mine. It became a theme park after the mine had been closed in 1978 and I could actually walk through the main tunnel.
There were hardly any visitors on that day and for about 20 minutes I walked alone in the dark mine. It was an eerie feeling. But as I approached the end of the tunnel, I came upon a tiny shop where an elderly gentleman was selling small pieces of copper ore. I could not resist asking him if he had lived in this town during the war. Not only was he living in town he had also just started working at the mine in the spring of 1945 when he was 15 years old. My next question to him was, of course, if he remembered American POWs working in the mine. He said that although Japanese workers were prohibited from talking to POWs, he remembered very well seeing them forced to march to and from the mine everyday. I was very glad that I found someone who remembered you and your fellow POWs having been forced to work there.
I shared with this gentleman your wartime experience at the mine—your being hungry, cold, beaten, and having to perform dangerous slave labor. As is typical for a Japanese male of his generation, he was not very good at expressing his feelings. He just listened quietly. He then took out a piece of copper ore and asked that I give it to you. I was surprised but promised that I would deliver it to you.
Jim, I don’t know if one Japanese person’s visit to your former camp site and her meeting with another Japanese person who wanted you to have a piece of copper ore from that place will mean anything to you. I hope it does, although it may bring you back very painful memories from days long past.
As you know, I have written many times in Japanese publications that the Japanese government and companies should take moral responsibility for wartime POW forced labor. I still feel the same way today. But I also want to believe that there are things we individual Japanese can and should do in order to bring about some sense of reconciliation between our two peoples. Trying to learn individual POW experiences such as yours is one of them. Such efforts will never substitute an official apology from the Japanese government and companies, but I sincerely hope that learning about this dark chapter of the Pacific War together will bring us closer.
See you soon.
James and Nancy Murphy in a recent photo
Posted on January 1, 2005.
* "When Men
Must Live," a memoir Mr. Murphy co-wrote with his son, Ken.